Just as shoppers gear up for the final push to Christmas, many Spokane area residents say their basic mail service from the U.S. Postal Service has nearly stopped.
Postal officials on Nov. 29 hosted a news conference to highlight new equipment upgrades that pushed the Spokane distribution center’s ability to process about 200,000 parcels a day, up from 120,000.
However, the federal agency has since acknowledged that staff shortages have forced them to extend postal workers’ hours and alter routes. As a result, several residents said they haven’t had standard mail delivery for days.
Sunny Caudle, 76, who lives in Spokane Valley, said she hasn’t had her mail delivered in 10 days despite in-person visits and conversations with managers at her local post office.
She went to her Opportunity Post Office, 11712 E. Sprague, on Wednesday and found a line of several dozen people waiting to pick up and send mail.
“For anyone living in the Painted Hills, they are saying that their delivery man is sick and that the supervisor is taking that route,” Caudle said. “It’s really frustrating. Who is going to pay the late fees on our credit card payments? What if you don’t get your electricity bill paid? It just goes on and on. And there are people who get prescriptions through the mail.”
One Spokane resident received a voicemail from a man who identified himself as the supervisor of the Shadle Garland Post Office, at 1903 W. Garland Ave. On the voicemail, the supervisor apologized for the slow service and then explained why.
“We don’t have enough employees and we have too much mail volume, as well,” he said on the recording. “So combined, we are in dire straits trying to get the mail out.
“We are trying to rotate who gets mail when and trying to get it out every couple of days to each route. Unfortunately, that’s not always a possibility for us, either,” he continued.
He noted that the agency is now requiring postal delivery workers to come in on Sundays to fix the backlog.
“We are doing our best,” he said. “If you do have packages you are concerned about, we are running packages separately and do have package runners running out there that don’t have mail. We are trying to get all that out because I do know that there are concerns about medicines and such.”
A worker at the Shadle Garland facility directed an inquiry about delivery problems to Ilona Boyd, a local customer relations coordinator.
Reached by phone, Boyd forwarded the inquiry to an official based in Plano, Texas.
Lecia Hall, spokeswoman for the Postal Service, said she covers media inquiries from Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Northwest Montana from her office in Texas.
Hall said that the Christmas season is the agency’s busiest time of year.
“Our employees are out there,” Hall said. “We have a lot of packages this time our year.”
When asked about reports of mail carriers asked to work 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, Hall said that could be happening.
“We do ask our employees to work some Sundays to get the packages delivered,” she said. “Once our peak season is over, it kind of dies down. They don’t work 12-hour shifts, seven days a week the full year.”
During an interview late last month, Earl Eisenrich, who supervises the Postal Service’s Spokane Processing & Distribution Center, at 2928 S. Spotted Road, said the Postal Service in the Spokane area has about 1,246 employees.
Asked how many jobs in the area remain unfilled, Hall, the spokeswoman in Texas, put the number of job vacancies at about 20.
Spokane Valley resident Owen Lewis, 48, said he doubts that the entire Spokane system is down only 20 mail carriers. He said the delivery problems have been going on for months and recently got much worse.
“Either the routes are too big, or something else has to be done,” Lewis said. “Being a supervisor myself of a crew, I understand how difficult it is to find people who want to do the jobs, because there is a worker shortage in this economy right now.”
Lewis said the only person who has been able to describe the challenges faced by the Postal Service is the mail carrier who delivers to his work.
That carrier said that the local post office is “so overwhelmed with parcels because of Amazon and others putting their parcels onto the Postal Service that they don’t have enough people to handle it,” Lewis said.
In the meantime, Lewis’s mail has mostly stopped coming. Officials at his nearest post office, the Opportunity Post Office, have explained some of their issues, Lewis said.
“They are at least talking to us, which I do appreciate,” Lewis said. “But the problem comes when they tell us they are putting extra people and having them work on their days off and the routes don’t get cleared up.”
Efforts to reach that post office by phone on Wednesday were unsuccessful.
“I have several registrations that come due in this time period, including my pet registrations,” Lewis said. “I have medical needs not being fulfilled. My medicines are not delivered as parcels, they are delivered as mail.”
Linda King, of north Spokane, said her mail delivery has gradually gotten worse. She said she reached out to her post office, at 9857 N. Nevada St., and a supervisor on Saturday explained part of the reason for delays on her route.
That postal official said the mail carrier from King’s route had been moved to a different Postal Service job.
“They said they had to wait until he retired before they could put a permanent replacement on that route,” King said. “It seems like they could replace his position. The big problem with our government is they don’t run themselves like a real business. That’s where they start to have problems.”
King said she understands that the Postal Service has more packages to deliver with the growth of online commerce. “But people of all ages need their mail,” she said.
Caudle, of Spokane Valley, said the postal official who spoke with her said that mail carriers typically earn about $60,000 a year.
“He said some would be earning $200,000 because of overtime,” she said.
Donna Walden, 79, serves as the treasurer for her home owner’s association in Spokane Valley. She’s also a neighbor of Caudle’s.
“A lot of people rely on the mail to get their prescriptions and they weren’t getting filled,” Walden said. “Every home has bills that need to be paid.”
Walden said she was informed that her post office didn’t have enough employees to check for mail if residents go there in person. One woman was told to put her mail on hold and check it once a week to ensure she got her medicine.
“On the average day, they said they are 10 people short,” Walden said. “It’s really frustrating. I’ve given up with outgoing mail. I don’t want people walking through and picking it up.”
Lewis, Caudle’s other neighbor, said he called the Postal Service phone line to try to get some service.
“And the only thing I got from that, after leaving my information,” he said, “was an email saying they were sorry.”
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